Prologue: Infant Lowly
The midwife was still sobbing.
Her choking cries rang through the tiny vicarage. She was a young wife, and Sarah was perhaps her tenth delivery.
And her first to die.
The sackcloth upon which Sarah had lain was stained dark red with the blood which had flowed from her as she shuddered in convulsions and bled from the afterbirth. The midwife had gone from reassuring to shocked, and then to near-hysterical. By the time William had been told what had happened, his wife was already gone.
Word traveled fast in this part of London, and it hadn't been long before several men of the parish arrived to wrap the body and carry it safely away. Funeral arrangements would be made, and William would preside. He would call on the gravedigger in the morning.
Kneeling beside the sackcloth, William ran his hand across it. It came back red, and he clenched his fist, watching as sweat dripped from his palm, made pink by his now late wife's birthing blood.
The child would die also. A son, as he and Sarah had hoped for. But he was small, born early, and now there was no mother to nurse him.
As he watched the bloodied sweat run off his hand, William realized that he did not hear the child. Perhaps he was already gone like his mother. And if so—William's heart began to race. He stood and strode into the other room, where the midwife sat hunched, tears still making pale tracks down her dirty face. Her hands, too, were bloodied, and so was the bundle she clutched. But as William drew nearer, he saw the bundle jerk. His body was flushed with relief. He reached out to the midwife and snatched the swaddled infant from her.
Rushing back into the main room, William frantically searched for anything that could be pressed into this service. If he could not save his wife, and if he could not save his son, at least he could see that they both would be received into Heaven.
At last his eyes landed upon the wooden bucket, which had been once filled with warm water for the birthing, now gone as cold as the winter outside. Bloodied rags floated on top of the water, and by the light of the fire William could see the water's faint pink hue.
He was revolted, and his eyes searched once more for anything he could use. But the child did not cry, and his movements were becoming slower already. There was not time to go to the well.
Plunging one hand into the cool water, William hastily laid the infant on his lap and pulled back the swaddling clothes. There was not time for a long prayer. He withdrew a hand of cooled water and poured it over the child's face. In a shaking voice, William said the words which he had said so many times before, on so many happier occasions.
"I baptize thee in the name of the Father"—he scooped again— "and the Son" —a third scoop—"and the Holy Ghost."
The water ran down the child's head in rivulets, leaving behind traces of the blood of the woman who had borne him. Still the boy did not move, except for the infinitesimally small movement of his chest has he breathed. Laying a trembling thumb upon his son's tiny brow, William made the sign of the cross, and recited: "We receive this child into the congregation of Christ's flock, and do sign him with the sign of the cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end."
William stood, still holding the unnaturally quiet infant. To fight against sin, the world, and the devil. This boy would have task enough in merely fighting to breathe for a few more moments. Surely he was close to death now. He carried the boy back to the midwife, and thrust him into her hands.
"He will join his mother soon," he said quietly. "But his soul shall be saved with hers."
"Christened," the midwife said, her voice sounding awed as she looked down at the child, whose head still dripped from the three tiny handfuls of water. "And his name?"
William stopped. He was to be named William, of course. That had been the choice he had made when Sarah said she was carrying low and guessed the child in her womb to be a son. But if William were to use the name for another boy after this child died, he would never forget this horrible night. And so the name he uttered was not the name he had chosen, but rather the name Sarah had wanted: her father's name, the man over whose body William had said the funeral prayers just months before.
"Carlisle," he said quietly. "His name is Carlisle."
And as though he recognized the name as his own, the baby snapped open his milky blue eyes and began to scream.
A/N: Welcome to Stregoni. This will likely be the only author's note on the FFnet and ADF versions. The version on my personal website will contain the historical notes as endnotes to each chapter. Read whichever version you prefer.
Some stories are best told in order. This is not one of them. To keep you from confusion, I will update as much as I am able, but the only promise I make on that front is that I won't leave this story unfinished. It is too important to me.
Carlisle Cullen is a man of faith, and this tale deals with a major crisis of faith for him (several, really). There will be discussion of spirituality, prayer, Christianity, the Bible, and the like. Their purpose is to reflect Carlisle and his father, not to proselytize, but if you feel the presence of religious themes will bother you, this is not the story for you.
Finally, although I've researched this piece carefully and have enlisted the help of several who know more than I, I fully own that I am no historian. If you catch an historical error, please feel free to leave the comment in a review or PM, and I will edit as needed. I don't bite. As always, I cherish all feedback and will do my best to respond.
Stregoni is betaed by Openhome and Julie, for each of whose help I am unendingly grateful. Viva Viva provided feedback on the early chapters. Any mistakes which remain are entirely my own.
And as always, the characters and their world belong solely to Stephenie Meyer, and I thank her for her continued graciousness in allowing us to play with them.
Thank you for reading.